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Big reorganization plan coming into focus


Just a Lobster Minion
NAXJA Member
INTERIOR: Big reorganization plan coming into focus — Bernhardt
Michael Doyle, E&E News reporter: Friday, July 6, 2018

The redrawn boundary maps at the heart of the Interior Department's ambitious reorganization could be finalized and presented to Congress within weeks, Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt said yesterday.

Then the real work will begin, with the battle lines still forming and the outcome up in the air.

"We're probably on the verge of having that final map soon," Bernhardt said. "I would sure as heck hope that it's this month that it's done."

In a wide-ranging interview conducted in Bernhardt's sixth-floor office, the department's second-highest official illuminated a reorganization timetable that could extend for several years even if a sometimes recalcitrant Congress gives endless green lights.

It starts with the map, delineating how Interior agencies will be slotted into regions for the sharing of certain management and administrative functions (Greenwire, Feb. 23).
"I would expect a good part of the rest of the summer and the fall is spent on the common boundaries," Bernhardt said.

In January, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proposed dividing management of millions of federal acres into 13 regions along boundaries of watersheds and basins. Western governors objected, prompting Zinke to follow state lines. Zinke's revised map still divided Interior into 13 regions but avoided splitting up states like Colorado, Wyoming and Utah into multiple regions.

Bernhardt's home state of Colorado, for instance, was carved up across three regions under the original map. The revision kept Colorado intact as part of an "Upper Colorado Basin" region, which also appeared to encompass Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico.

Since version 2.0 was made public in February, Bernhardt said, "there's been some sanding of some items," although he characterized the latest iteration as "not radically different" from the prior proposal.

"He listens, and those maps have evolved," Bernhardt said, while adding with a laugh that "I don't know what version we're on, but it's whatever the next one is that hasn't been rolled out yet."

Interior will present the final map to Congress as part of a "reprogramming" request. An omnibus fiscal 2018 appropriations bill made clear, in committee report language, the key role that lawmakers expect to play (E&E Daily, March 22).
"Any such reprogramming request ... shall include a description of anticipated benefits, including anticipated efficiencies and cost-savings, as well as a description of anticipated personnel impacts and funding changes anticipated to implement the proposal," the report states.

A fiscal 2019 Interior spending bill approved last month by the Senate Appropriations Committee included $14 million for Interior's proposed reorganization but also, in report language, directed Interior "to not obligate these funds until the secretary has submitted a reprogramming ... that provides greater detail on the reorganization, its impacts on staff, funding, and service delivery, and how these funds will be expended."

Once the boundaries are set, Interior officials expect a gradual rather than abrupt adoption of new administrative lines of authority.

"What we'll likely do is pilot a couple of regions to really make sure we have the thing humming, instead of trying to do 13 things all in one way," Bernhardt said.

Next comes consideration of moving an agency's headquarters, such as the Bureau of Land Management's, out of Washington. Although some potential locations have already begun touting their advantages, Bernhardt said relocation will entail "much more due diligence about the viability of those communities, of places that our folks would go."

"That requires much more analysis," Bernhardt said.

While much of the agency relocation talk has revolved around BLM, Bernhardt noted the Bureau of Reclamation is also "one to think about," among others.

"There is some deliberation about the Fish and Wildlife Service, and there's even some deliberation about the U.S. Geological Survey," Bernhardt said. "Each bureau director and assistant secretary is looking at that in terms of viability."

Some, on and off Capitol Hill, retain doubts about the whole exercise (E&E News PM, May 29).
"Ultimately, we believe your proposed reorganization of the Department is almost certain to fail and, is therefore a wasteful and disruptive distraction for you, the Department's other leadership and the Department's hard-working employees, who will face years of uncertainty about their professional careers and their personal lives," Jamie Rappaport Clark, the president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, wrote Zinke in May.

Bernhardt believes otherwise, as he champions the redeployment of Interior's professional staff.

"I think they'll be much more efficient at resolving conflict amongst themselves," Bernhardt said. "I think that's a huge thing. We have a very cumbersome and inefficient manner of resolving interjurisdictional differences, and I think that goes away, or least is vastly improved."